If mere talking to Carmelina, my childhood love after 17 years was incredibly shocking, her revelation was dynamite. It blew me to pieces.
I met Carmelina at the Overseas Employment Development Board’s office (OEDB) Intramuros, Manila, on December 19, 1980 at 3:00 PM, when I handed in a telegram prompting me to report for interview for possible employment overseas. Carmelina was a Placement Officer. The full measure of our fated meeting happened at 4:45 p.m., at the OEDB’s Cellar Kitchenette.
As far as I could remember, with an untouched clubhouse sandwich at our table, while we sipped Coke, the following was her version of my story…
“Two weeks ago, I chanced upon your resume when we were doing an evaluation of resumes submitted to us. I took an interest in yours. Not only we’re town mates, but also, as I remembered, we’re classmates. You’re special, in fact. I was curious… How are you now? The last time I saw you was in 1969, after I finished high school. And that was 11 years ago.”
“I put you at the Arabian Bechtel Co. Ltd., which I know is a very good company. Gene Chalmer, the Bechtel Recruiter, would end his interviewing today. For you to come quick, rather than put you through the pipeline which would take time, I telegrammed you. I don’t want you to miss this opportunity… You looked shocked, when you saw me upstairs…?
That! Uh… I was stunned. You looked like Linda Carter, the “Wonder Woman”. I felt inferior.
“Ha… ha… huh… Wow! I’ll give you a hug. You’re so generous. Thanks. But you know… that shyness of yours killed you.”
Killed me…? I repeated her words in my thought. “Oh… How? I asked.
“Well, from 1963 – let me see – to 1965… starting when we were in Grade 3 up to Grade 5, all you do is staring at me. I was annoyed at first. But then later, I thought you just wanted to talk to me. But you’re chicken. Never got that one iota of courage. My fault. I let this bore… you remember him? Rufino Gomez, the piffle braggart dogged me till we graduated in Grade 6. You’re intimidated to death!
How could I forget Rufino… his Converse White Shoes. He was my nemesis.
“Tell me. Why you always remove your black shoes and parked them under your desk? Were you peeved, when our classmate howled at you… “here comes the rat catcher”? One Monday, you come to class your eyes were swollen, like you spent the whole weekend crying. Then, I never saw your Black Elpo Shoes again.”
My memories reeled back to that humiliating episode of my life: the Black Elpo Shoes, and all the scenes attached to it. 17 years already passed, I didn’t know it had a twist. I was being observed – of all people – my crush! A thousand horses stomped their feet on my chest. I couldn’t answer right away. Carmelina went on….
“You remember Mrs. Villaroman, our Art Teacher. We had this Poster Contest about crime. And I saw you talking to her. I gossiped. You wanted to join. But you got no art supplies. Then, Ms.,Villaroman, requested your seatmate Emelita to lend you some. You won. Your poster reads: “Parang mabangis na Leon kung manila ang Krimen” Then you put the image of a growling, roaring image of a Lion like the logo of Metro Goldyn Meyer. I love the metaphor you used. I only understood them when I was in my early years in college.
And Mrs. De Joya, our English Teacher, she asked you to make a sentence, parse it, and identify which part of speech each word belong. Your sentence runs like this: Jose is anxious to talk to Carmela. I don’t know what “anxious” meant. I looked it up in the dictionary. It means – ‘strongly wishing’. There’s no Jose in our class, neither Carmela. So I took it to mean, Jose was you, and Carmela was me and you strongly wishes to talk to me. But you’re mute! Do you know that? You’re like Carlos, remember him? He’s a sissy character of our book “Pathways to Reading” a coward, derided by bullies. One time, Carlos surprised the whole village. Carlos dived to the river and save a drowning boy where no one among the bullies dared jumping off. How I wished you’ve got the courage of Carlos to come near me and talk to me. It never came.
We were separated in high school. I was sad. From your resume, I learned you’re from a public high. Me, my parents wanted me at St. Mary’s. a bourgeois school. Even when were separated, I knew you keep tabs on me. Every 5:00 o’ clock during Friday’s, you were at our school gate, watching me. And once I caught your eyes, you vanished like a ghost. During Saturdays, between 10:00 and 11:00 a.m., you hung around at Mang Maning’s store at the corner of F.G. Calderon St. and P. Enrile St. where we live nearby. You remember that? I made sure I’ll perch myself atop the Guava tree in front of the Aguas Potables, the huge water tank. There, I love seeing you waiting. I watched how your face disfigure. And when totally, you’re so pissed off, I’ll make myself visible. Once you saw me, you would go home. How shallow your joy was. I hated you! We never see other again after high school.
I felt nuked when the full measure of her confession sunk. A roly-poly waiter approached Carmelina. “Mam, telephone,” he said. Carmelina drained her Coke, excused herself, stood up and walked to the telephone at the counter of the OEDB Kitchenette.
Staring at the untouched sandwiches on our table and rounding the rim of the glass of Coke with my finger, I cursed myself of my cowardice. The great chance that I have wasted! Surely, this must not be our last meeting… I can invite her again.
When she came back to our table, she asked me how is my interview with Gene Chalmer went. Then she said, “Don’t forget to send me a postcard from Saudi.”
We talked a little bit more, then she raised her arm and waved. I swung my head, looking for whom she waved her hand for. And I saw a handsome guy approached us.
“Honey, meet my town mates and classmates, I haven’t seen for 11 years”.
HONEY…! And Carmelina clung her hand to the man’s arm. A lump in my throat seemed to hold my Adam’s apple for eternity. When I was myself again, I reminded her to finish her sandwich before they leave. She said, I could have it, and added, her revelation, surely, would get me starving.
In a long drawn out sigh, I said, it was a blessing. Because if Carmelina was not committed, I would likely be succumbed to forbidden game.